RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A civil rights leader received a fair trial in 2019 and his conviction on trespassing charges at the North Carolina General Assembly stands, the state’s appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The Rev. William Barber II said at trial that he was using his “preaching voice” and he had the Constitutional right to instruct legislators. When staff complained about the noise, the chief of the General Assembly police repeatedly told Barber to lower his voice or be placed under arrest.
Jurors found Barber guilty after he led a call-and-response chant with roughly 50 people outside state Sen. Phil Berger’s office, protesting poor health care spending.
The North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled Barber’s free speech rights were not violated by his arrest. The General Assembly’s rules do not curtail the content of anyone’s speech, but only its volume, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported.
“This is not a case about free speech,” wrote Judge Chris Dillon. “It is a case about loud speech.”
While free speech is protected and the General Assembly is public, the government still has the power to regulate the nature of free speech when it becomes unruly and disrupts others, the court ruled.
“We hold that the interior of the General Assembly is not an unlimited public forum,” Dillon wrote. “Although important speech is conducted within the building, the building is not a quintessential community venue, such as a public street, sidewalk, or park.”
Dillon was joined in the court’s opinion by judges Jeffery Carpenter and Lucy Inman. Inman offered a different First Amendment analysis but ultimately ruled Barber’s Constitutional rights were not violated.
Barber received a suspended one-day sentence, 12 months of unsupervised probation, a $200 fine and 24 hours of community service.
A spokesperson for Barber’s civil rights nonprofit, Repairers of the Breach, had no immediate comment Tuesday night on the court’s ruling or further appeal.